Proactive Arms Control

It has been a bad month for Syria, Iran and North Korea; consequently a good month for everyone else.

It has been a bad month for Syria, Iran and North Korea; consequently a good month for everyone else.

Syria is not a signatory to the Chemical Weapons Convention, the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty or the Missile Technology Control Regime. The name on the paper is hardly proof that a country is not pursuing clandestine programs in non-conventional weapons; many countries cheat. Terrorism-supporting dictatorships with close ties to other terrorism-supporting dictatorships and rogue countries are probably most likely to cheat. So it may be an odd burst of honor on the part of Syria not to sign and therefore not to cheat, but rather to pursue parts of its non-conventional arsenal mostly in the open. Syria has had chemical capabilities since before the Yom Kippur War, and has been working on ballistic missiles since it lost 82 aircraft to Israel over Lebanon in 1982. Iranian-Syrian and Syrian-North Korean cooperation in these developments is well known.

With no confirmation from Israel, and no evidence shown by Syria, consensus is growing that what Israel hit last week might have been a nuclear-related facility, possibly after receipt of a shipment of something interesting from North Korea. This would account for the strident complaint by North Korea about a violation of Syrian airspace, and the remarkably sanguine comments by American officials.

[The timing of French Foreign Minister Kouchner’s warning about a military response to the development of nuclear capability by Iran might have been a coincidence, if one believes in them. The change in French attitude is warmly welcomed, but it should be noted that Dr. Kouchner was actually threatening Iran with someone else’s military capability, not France’s own. That is akin to “let’s you and him fight, and I’ll root for you.” Better for sure, but not quite as good as having France agree to meaningful sanctions in the energy area – something they have avoided.]

In another development, the Jerusalem Post cited Israel’s Channel 10 citing a report in Jane’s Defence Review that “dozens of Iranian engineers and 15 Syrian officers were killed in a July 23 accident in Syria… [A] joint Syrian-Iranian team was attempting to mount a chemical warhead on a Scud missile when the explosion occurred, spreading lethal chemical agents, including Sarin nerve gas. Reports of the accident were circulated at the time; however, no details were released by the Syrian government, and there were no hints of an Iranian connection.” The New York Post added that Jane’s said the facility was part of an Iranian-Syrian cooperation agreement signed in 2005, and noted that Russian intelligence has “claimed that Syria has a stockpile of hundreds of chemical aerial bombs.”

The news wasn’t entirely bad for Syria, however. The IAEA, the UN’s nuclear watchdog, elected Syria deputy chairman of its General Conference on Monday, proving that the world can ill-afford to wait for pro-active Israeli arms control or a fortuitous accident to ensure that Syria doesn’t threaten the region with non-conventional capabilities that were developed with and can be shared with Iran and North Korea.